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Rancher Cliven Bundy freed, case dismissed

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada rancher accused of leading an armed standoff that stopped federal agents from rounding up his cattle in 2014 walked out of a courthouse in Las Vegas a free and defiant man Monday, declaring that his fight against U.S. authority is not over.

Cliven Bundy emerged to supporters’ cheers, while environmental and conservation advocates worried that the dismissal of his charges would bolster “violent and racist anti-government” followers who aim to erode established parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands controlled by U.S. officials.

“We’re not done with this,” the 71-year-old Bundy declared in his first minutes of freedom since his arrest in February 2016.

The family patriarch and states’ rights figure said he had been held as a political prisoner for 700 days and promised that if U.S. Bureau of Land Management agents come again to seize his cattle over unpaid grazing fees, they will encounter “the very same thing as last time.”

“The whole world is looking at us,” he said. “’Why is America acting like this? Why are we allowing the federal government, these bureaucracies, to have armies?’ That’s a big question the whole world wants to know.”

The stunning collapse of the federal criminal case against Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon marked a new low for government lawyers whose work is now under review by the Trump administration. Prosecutors have faced several losses in Oregon and Nevada arising from armed Bundy standoffs over federal control of vast stretches of land in the U.S. West.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched an investigation into the Nevada case last month after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial. On Monday, she dismissed outright all 15 counts against Bundy, his sons and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.

“The court finds that the universal sense of justice has been violated,” Navarro said as audible gasps and sobs erupted in a court gallery crammed with Bundy supporters.

It comes after prosecutors failed to gain full convictions in two trials against six other defendants who acknowledged carrying assault-style weapons during the April 2014 confrontation outside Bunkerville, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Jurors in Portland, Oregon, also acquitted Ryan and Ammon Bundy more than a year ago of taking over a federal wildlife refuge in early 2016 and calling for the U.S. government to turn over public land to local control.

The judge ended the latest case by ripping government prosecutors, led by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, for “intentional abdication of ... responsibility,” ‘’flagrant misconduct” and “substantial prejudice.”

Navarro found “deliberate attempts to mislead and distort the truth” and blamed FBI agents for “reckless disregard” of requirements to turn over evidence relating to government snipers and cameras that monitored the Bundy homestead.

The defense also should have been given records of government threat assessments that concluded the Bundys would probably protest but not become violent if agents enforcing court orders began rounding up their cattle, the judge said.

Navarro set a Feb. 26 trial date for four defendants still awaiting trial, including two more Bundy sons, Mel and David.

Nevada’s newly appointed acting U.S. attorney, Dayle Elieson, released a one-sentence statement saying she will make a determination about whether to challenge the ruling before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ian Bartrum, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law professor who has written about the Bundy case and federal land policy, called the complete dismissal a “pretty incredible result” for the family and its followers.

“In some ways, it vindicates what they’re claiming,” Bartrum said of people who believe federal agents and prosecutors overreached to indict 19 people on charges including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal agents.

“Not only did they not go to prison, but they drew attention to their political cause — rethinking land management policy in the West,” Bartrum said.

Kieran Suckling, an official with the Center for Biological Diversity, which fought for decades to protect endangered desert tortoises on rangeland where Bundy cows graze, called the prospect of a wider audience for the states’ rights figure cause for concern.

“Federal prosecutors clearly bungled this case and let the Bundys get away with breaking the law,” Suckling said. “The Bundys rallied a militia to mount an armed insurrection against the government. The failure of this case will only embolden this violent and racist anti-government movement that wants to take over our public lands.”

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Visitor's guide and calendar showcase Elko events and scenery

ELKO – Want to know what the next big event in Elko is? Check out the Visitor’s Guide and Events Calendar by the Elko Convention & Visitors Authority.

The 2018 calendar and Visitor’s Guide are available at the Elko Convention Center, Chamber of Commerce and tourist centers throughout Nevada.

About 20,000 copies of the 70-page Visitor’s Guide were printed this year, and are distributed at travel and adventure shows including Denver, Bay Area and Morris Murdock in Salt Lake City.

Tom Lester, tourism and convention manager, said he took copies to Layton, Utah for the Utah Travel Expo, where it was well received.

This year, the Visitor’s Guide expanded to include more pages about Elko’s arts and culture and updated the restaurant and shopping pages, Lester explained.

“It’s to inspire the average tourist to come here,” Lester said.

A five-day itinerary lists ideas for day trips to other parts of Elko County, such as the Chinese Gardens Nature Study Area in Carlin and a scenic drive to Angel Lake.

Keeping with that theme, event coordinator Erin Myers said she tried to incorporate more photos of Elko County in this year’s calendar, which is put together using submitted pictures from local photographers.

“We had awesome submissions,” Myers said. “They showcase different aspects of the community.”

About 29 people entered photos of Elko County scenes, events and centennial boots, something Myers wanted to feature in the calendar this year.

“It’s a big part of our art culture,” Myers said.

The amount of submissions was the largest Myers said she had seen compared with years past.

“There was lots of interest,” Myers said, adding that the winner of the $100 dinner gift certificate was J. Edlefsen, who chose to go to Aspens Bar and Grill at the Red Lion Hotel & Casino.

The calendar also marks local events along with their contact numbers, something that comes in handy for local residents and tourists alike, Lester said.

“It helps with events like the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival, which recently changed its dates from September to July 27,” Lester said.

Overall, the Visitor’s Guide and calendar serve the same purpose for Elko tourism, said Lester.

“It’s getting the word out.”

Elko pot ban up for city council vote today

ELKO – A proposal to ban marijuana sales in the city of Elko through a zoning ordinance is back on the city council’s agenda this week, but action may not be necessary because the city’s business license code already prohibits businesses that violate federal law.

Council members are scheduled to decide whether to accept the city planning commission’s recommendation against adopting a zoning ordinance banning marijuana sales during a public hearing Tuesday evening.

The council initiated the ordinance in October by voting to send it to the planning commission for consideration. Councilman John Patrick Rice was the only member to vote against pursuing the ordinance, saying seven of the city’s 12 precincts voted in favor of marijuana legalization and a ban would be unfair to medical patients who are unable to buy the drug locally.

Planners narrowly rejected the ban in a 4-3 vote in December, following a lengthy discussion.

City Planner Cathy Laughlin told the board that although recreational marijuana establishments have been allowed by the state since July 1, Elko City Code prohibits the city from issuing such a business license because marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

That prohibition means “we would have to change that part of the code at a minimum” to allow marijuana shops in the city, Elko City Manager Curtis Calder said Friday.

“The issues are complex, and likely to become more complex,” City Attorney David Stanton told planners at their December meeting.

Since that meeting, the federal government has changed its policy on marijuana law enforcement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an Obama-era policy that limited the amount of intrusion into states that had legalized the sale of marijuana. Sessions will now leave it up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state laws collide with federal drug law.

There is also the possibility of the city being sued by someone who wants to open a marijuana shop.

“Our code says that it has to be in compliance with federal law before we can issue a business license,” Stanton said. “And I think that’s a pretty strong position. I mean, obviously we can be sued for that, but I think the city’s position is strong.”

While no applications have been received to start a marijuana sales business in Elko, two proposals were made to establish sales on the Elko Indian Colony.

“My biggest concern is a distribution center right next door to us, but the city of Elko not benefitting from that but yet the city of Elko policing that, the city of Elko health services facilitating that …” said planning commission chairman Aaron Martinez. “At what point are we doing ourselves due justice by not allowing it and getting some revenue?”

The city has a two-year moratorium on medical marijuana establishments, but it is set to expire in March.

West Wendover is pursuing a medical marijuana establishment on the county’s eastern border, and neighboring White Pine County now has a medical and recreational establishment operated by the Shoshone Tribe on the outskirts of Ely.

Tuesday’s public hearings begin at 5:30 p.m. at Elko City Hall.

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Wells man pleads guilty in Facebook assault

ELKO – A Wells man accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl he met on Facebook pleaded guilty in district court Monday in a plea deal.

Jonathan D. Martinez, 21, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a child under the age of 14, a category A felony, before Judge Al Kacin in Elko District Court.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of probation. Martinez also faces lifetime supervision and must register as a sex offender.

Martinez was arrested June 29 at a casino in Wells on a warrant charging one count of sexual assault on a child under 14 and one count of lewdness with a child under the age of 14.

In exchange for pleading guilty, the lewdness charge was dropped and the state will not pursue other charges. Represented by Sherburne Macfarlane, Martinez initially pleaded not guilty Nov. 6.

According to court documents, Martinez had messaged the victim on Facebook for several months before they met on the night of May 22 at Wells Combined Schools. After the assault, the victim stated he threatened her with “consequences” if she told anyone.

While in custody, Martinez was also charged on a warrant alleging one count of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of aiming a gun at a person. In a plea deal Nov. 6, he pleaded no contest to the lesser charge, a gross misdemeanor, before Judge Nancy Porter in Elko District Court.

Martinez remains in custody at Elko County Jail. Sentencing for both matters is pending.